PHD, is a mood disorder rather than a clinical diagnosis, but it still can cause interruptions in daily life for people who struggle with depression. Weaver (2016) writes that PHD can begin right after Christmas is over or right after New Years. Often we think of depression around the holidays as occurring sometime prior to Thanksgiving, and for many people, this is when they begin to feel lonely or depressed. In fact, Weaver, (2016), says, “Though some people dread having to see their family around the winter holidays and don’t enjoy Christmas shopping and the colder weather, others feel more depressed after the holidays are over, since they have to go back to the same routine, among other haunting realities. This is known as post-holiday depression. This can start after Christmas or similar holidays and/or after New Year’s Day, depending on when a person celebrates” (p. 1). The causes for PHD are many, but according to Weaver, who cites an article from PychCentral, the three main causes of this mood disorder are “unmet expectations, unrealistic resolutions, and a return of loneliness and guilt about overindulgence” (p. 1).
Feelings of Unmet Expectations
WOW! I can say that I am in agreement here. I think my feelings of depression are tied to all three of these things, but unmet expectations surely is at the top. Let me explain…
Lately, I have thought a lot about unmet expectations, and as a result, I have come to the conclusion that I struggle most with the thought that my own expectations of performance, that my own high standards are unable to be being met. When I mean unmet expectations, I don’t mean with other people. I mean, I don’t have an issue with other people and their behavior or performance. It is just my own issue, my own problem. In truth, I have an issue with my own standard not being met, and as such, I am easily disappointed by my own behavior and actions and my inability to live up to my expectations of achievement. Yes, it is my own perceived failure that has the most direct impact on my ability to function well and to feel well. When I feel as if I have failed in any area of my life, I become so distressed and distracted that often I lose sight of the big picture or the end goal. This fatal distraction as I call it, often is my very downfall. My failure to live up to my own standard is the one thing, more than another other, that causes me to feel less than worthy, less than able, and less than perfected. Sigh!
More so, now that I am so close to the end of my PhD work, and I am so close to finishing my program, I am noticing the effects of the cumulative stress more clearly. I am tired — fatigued, for sure — but I am suffering from a more pronounced weariness that seems to be setting in and not giving way. This weariness, coupled with the pressure to produce results, is having a strong and adverse affect on my ability to focus and to stay in control. Weaver (2016) says that another significant cause for PHD can be “disappointments during the preceding months compounded by the excess fatigue and stress” (p. 2). Again, I absolutely agree with this statement. In reviewing my life over the past 36-months, I can see how I have passed through one incredibly difficult and crazy cycle after another, with all the highs and lows, and of course, with an immeasurable amount of stress. The good news, if there is one, is that Post-Holiday Blues is a temporary condition. It is generally a short-term disorder, one that can easily be overcome through some simple strategies.
Banishing the Post-Holiday Blues
WebMD suggests some good strategies for combating PHD. The most obvious as well as the easiest strategy is to think about something positive instead of dwelling on the negative. Dr. Andrew J. DuBrin suggests that many people struggle to overcome PHD simply because they fail to plan their New Year. In this way, they look at the New Year with fear and trepidation, rather than with hopeful optimism. Thus, instead of viewing their New Year as one filled with open-ended possibilities, they instead only a blank calendar — a year without anything planned. As such, they panic, and the fear and depression sets in. He says, “A blank calendar means, literally, a clean slate,” which implies that anything is possible. In my view, a blank slate is akin to a “do-over,” and as such, it can be an open door to new possibilities and wonderful opportunities for growth and for success.
Dr. Susan Battley suggests that one of the best ways to beat PHD is to create goals to help channel positive energies toward positive outcomes. In her estimation, thinking positively toward accomplishment can be motivating and uplifting and can combat the negative behavior of a continual review of past experiences (often, failed experiences). Battley calls these strategic goals, BAG, or Big Audacious Goals. She suggests that creating BIG goals can help alleviate some of the stress and depression associated with any major life change. Some ideas for BAG’s include: learning a new language, changing careers, volunteering, start a new relationship, or simply declutter your life (and home). The key here is to set some goals, write them down, and plan them out. Once you make goals, it becomes easier to focus on the steps involved as you move from one task to the next to the next and eventually to the completion of your goal.
In my experience, I can tell you that a lot of my depression the past couple years has stemmed from my uncertainty in regard to my future. I have so many major unknowns in my life and these unknowns have caused me to stress, to panic, and to fear the future. One thing that has helped me is my course work at Regent. My studies — three years of study in fact — has been the glue that has held everything together for me. I credit the Lord with providing me a framework to help me deal with the loss of my marriage, the upheaval of my home life, and the fact that I didn’t really have a career in mind or anything to fall back on once I became single. The Lord knew that while I was at Regent University, and my life was in flux, having a steady THING to focus on would help me feel in control of my future, my life. My future was on temporary hold, so to speak, but while I completed my research, courses, and eventually, my dissertation, I held in the back of mind the assurance that there would be an outcome at the very end of the hard work and effort. Yes, I knew that at the end of this BAG, I had hope and assurance that I would be hired full-time to teach, and that I would move to the place of His choosing to do that work. I knew — I BELIEVED — that the uncertainty in my life would come to a close, and I would arrive at my next destination.
Now, as I get closer to that goal and its completion, I find that I am struggling with what I call the “what’s next” syndrome. I mean, what happens AFTER a BAG is completed? Well, according to Drs. Battley and DuPrin, I simply need more BAGs. Yes, the key for me is not to rest once the BAG is finished, but rather to move on to another BAG, just waiting to take its place.
Understanding my depression and where it has come from has been a life-long process. I have learned that much of my depression has come from my high anxiety childhood. Moreover, my depression of late has stemmed from a lack of positive achievement in my life. I came to this conclusion this weekend as I struggled to make progress on my research. I realized that as I am about to complete the biggest and baddest BAG ever, I will have to have something to do AFTERWARD or I will cycle into major depression. I have to have more goals, more achievements, more things to work toward, strive for, and desire to achieve. I realized that the one thing that keeps me “sane” and healthy is a lot of hard work. Yes, I am driven by hard work and hard effort.
In many ways, my goals are not for self-promotion or even to demonstrate my skill or intelligence (as in performance orientation). My drive is to improve, to always improve, and that means to become the very best person I can be given the limitations and difficulties in my life at present. My achievement serves one purpose, and that is to keep my mind busy and active and to bring order and routine to my life. It is truth — I need order — and I need routine. I need check sheets, sticky notes, and task lists to keep me moving forward. I need the drum roll, the “taking it to the hoops” move, the pressure to keep me from spiraling down into feelings of loathing and self-deprecation (worthlessness). I know that my depression now is tied so intimately to my achievement, and that the only way to keep it at bay is to continue to have more tasks, more things, more desires and dreams for me to consider, to contemplate, and to control (eventually). Yes, in many ways, the Lord knows that I need things to keep me busy, and by things, I mean a lot of BIG, BOLD, BOULDERS for me to shift, move, and scale. He knows that little things, easy things, will not cut it for me. No, He knows that I need mountains to climb, obstacles to overcome, and difficult and dark (at times) pathways to follow. He knows me best, and He knows that I will not be satisfied with small, simple, or even superficial outcomes in my life.
Understanding My Achievement Orientation
It is funny, really, but for most of my life, I was a dreamer, an idealist, and someone who mostly “thought” about doing things in life. I never felt that I really accomplished anything of high value in life. For most of the past 40 years, I lived a modest and rather plain life, a very small life in so many ways, and throughout that time, I thought that my feelings of depression, worthlessness, and dissatisfaction were the result my inner inabilities to handle change and stress. More so, I believed that I wasn’t very good at anything, and I listened to people who told me that I was always a “quitter,” really just a “no-good,” or who said that I should be happy to settle for less than best because it was all I was “cut out” to achieve. In short, I deserved less because I didn’t measure up to an unbelievably high standard, and as such, I should be happy to accept my “lot” in life. I listened naively for so many years to what people told me to believe, to think, to accept, and even despite the fact that I had this raging desire inside of me to do the opposite, I often gave in and up before trying anything on my own.
It wasn’t until I came to faith, really to faith, as a mature adult that my life turned around for me. I was 46 at the time, and I had been a Christ-follower for almost four decades, but it was in a particularly low point in my life when I heard the Lord speak words to me that confirmed this truth. I had long believed that I had missed the boat, so to speak, and that I had missed out on whatever opportunities and endless possibilities were “out there” for me. I had made so many mistakes, some really disastrous mistakes, and for all intents and purposes, my life was pretty much set in stone. I was in the bed I had made for myself, and there was no way out, no way out of it. I was miserable, of course. I was depressed beyond depressed. I felt all alone, and I was so deeply saddened at the outcome of my life that I believed I was beyond hope for recovery. The blessed came, however, when the Lord said to me that He had a plan for my life. Furthermore, He told me that my life had value, purpose, and that He wanted me to dream big, to take bold steps of faith, and to accomplish much in my life. Of course, I didn’t believe I could do anything, but He said He would do it through me, and that all I had to do was trust Him.
I believed He was telling me the truth, and I trusted Him to keep His word to me. And, in good fashion, the Lord did just what He promised He would do. He showed me a way out of the misery, the sorrow, the sadness, and it wasn’t through a miracle sprinkling of magic fairy dust, but rather, it was through hard work, perseverance, and discipline. It was through hard work and hard achievement, and as a result, I learned the blessing of what it feels like to overcome. I learned how great it can feel to stand the giant down, to become victorious in His name and strength, and to do the impossible (with His help, His guidance, and His provision, of course)!
As I think about this fact, I realize now that in and through the seasons of my life, the Lord had already given to me a way to overcome, but that I just didn’t understand how significant it was to me or how important it was that I achieve goals. I simply didn’t connect the dots and put it all together, to really grasp that my high level of productivity, performance, and achievement was all part of His blessing and gift to me. I never knew that I needed this type of motivation, and I never realized that without it, I would feel so awful, so horrible, and so worthless. The Lord showed me that as an achievement-oriented person, I am driven by the need to complete projects, to finish tasks, to scale and strive and struggle in order to overcome difficulties. He showed me that my need drives me to overcome, and as such, I derive great satisfaction through the process as much as through the final accomplishment. In short, He revealed to me that my character, my wiring, my chemistry — whatever term you would use to describe internal motivating features — was all part of His plan for my life. Yes, He created me to be an achievement oriented person, and as such, I am most comfortable, most in control, when I am working on BAG that transform, transcend, and translate meaning in and through my life.
I am This Way
Maurice Kerrigan (2013) says, "Achievement orientation is a drive to accomplish one's goals and to meet or exceed a high standard of success. Achievement-oriented people often want to do things better or more efficiently than they have been done in the past” (para. 1). Most achievement-oriented people are leaders. Kerrigan asserts that these types of people tend to be strategic in how they think and act, and since they are focused on improving their abilities over the course of their careers or lives rather than to produce a short-term result, they are resilient to failure. More so, Kerrigan says, “They are proud individuals who acknowledge their own hard work and effort, yet still keep moving forward towards bigger goals and objectives” (para. 4). And, in regard to emotional well-being, Kerrigan states, "Achievement oriented people understand that their emotions have a dramatic impact on their daily life decisions, behaviours and actions. As a result they have learned to take control of their emotions and direct them in proactive ways that support their daily goals and objectives” (para. 6).
All of this is to say that for people like me, people who are achievement oriented, working without goals is akin to working in a deep black hole, a place where there is no light and no way out. We need to plan, to budget, to strategize, and to work hard in order to see our goals, our dreams, our visions, and our ambitions come to pass. It is our internal motivation, our drive, that helps to give purpose to our lives. Kerrigan writes, "For this reason, achievement oriented people focus only on what they want and desire to do and achieve in life. They always take into consideration their short and long-term objectives, and focus their mind on these accordingly” (para. 8). This reminds me that when my objectives become clouded or when I lose focus on my end-goal, I find that I begin to struggle with depressive thoughts, with feelings of inadequacy. I need to feel empowered, to feel as if I can achieve my goal, as if I can overcome, in order for the anxiety, the stress, and the emotions to subside. It is such an interesting phenomenon to think that my inner drive and motivation is turned on at the thought of achieving some goal or purpose in life.
Moving On, Accepting This Fact
Today is December 26, 2016. I have survived Christmas and the close of the semester. I am now facing the Biggest and Baddest BAG of my life. I have shrunk in fear the past couple weeks, afraid of really tackling this baddy project, but now I am to the wire, and that means that I have one goal in mind — finishing this bad boy — and getting on with the NEXT set of goals leading to my future ambitions.
I am ready to do this work. I am ready. I have put everything else to bed, and now I must focus 100% on the work the Lord has for me. I will do my best, and I will trust that He will do the rest. In the end, no matter what comes of it, I will give Him the praise, the honor, and the glory due His glorious and honorable good name. He alone is worthy to be praised! He alone is worthy to be honored! Selah!
I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles (Philippians 4:13-14 Message).
Kerrigan, M. (2013). What is achievement orientation and why is it important? | The MK Blog. Retrieved from http://www.mauricekerrigan.com/blog/what-is-achievement-orientation-and-why-is-it-important/
Lawrence, S. (2016). Blow Off Post-Holiday Blues. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/blow-off-post-holiday-blues
Weaver, R. (2016). Ever Have After Christmas Blues? It Could Be the Realities of Post-Holiday Depression | EmpowHER - Women's Health Online. Retrieved from http://www.empowher.com/depression/content/post-holiday-depression-why-are-you-feeling-so-low-after-best-time-year?page=0,1